Tom Smart, Deseret News

A dramatic surge in the missionary force, major church milestones and humanitarian aid efforts were among the noteworthy stories involving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2013.

This past year, the church implemented new ways to share the gospel through technology, increased its digital outreach and responded to natural disasters around the world. It continued to adjust to overall growth, build temples and provide opportunities for its members to serve and improve lives.

Here is a look at the top stories making headlines in 2013.

Contributing: Joseph Walker, Trent Toone, Tad Walch, R. Scott Lloyd, Gerry Avant, Sarah Weaver, Jason Swensen, Jesse Hyde, Ryan Morgenegg, Rachel Sterzer, Abby Stevens, Christine Rappleye, Doug Robinson

Missionary developments
Tom Smart, Deseret News

One year after announcing the change in minimum age requirements for missionary service, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson opened the October 2013 general conference by announcing the number of full-time missionaries around the world had increased from 58,500 to 80,000.

“What a tremendous and inspiring response we have witnessed!” President Monson said. “Now is the time for members and missionaries to come together, to work together, to labor in the Lord’s vineyard to bring souls to him. He has prepared the means for us to share the gospel in a multitude of ways, and he will assist us in our labors if we will act in faith to fulfill his work.”

Hastening the work has required the church to expand other missionary-related functions.

In order to compensate for the increase in missionaries, the church established 58 new missions around the globe and announced plans to expand the Provo Missionary Training Center. Benemerito de Las America, a church-owned high school in Mexico City, was closed and transformed into a missionary training center that opened in June.

In July, updated web pages reflected changes to dress and grooming requirements for full-time missionaries.

In light of the recent surge, the First Presidency sent out a letter encouraging members to donate “regularly and generously” to the church’s missionary fund. The letter was read in many worship services June 2.

Also in June, church leaders spoke via satellite to a global gathering of missionaries and church officers and presented innovative approaches to missionary work, including the use of the Internet by full-time missionaries and opening local meetinghouses to guided tours.

In September, a press release was posted on the LDS Newsroom website in response to news reports about the deaths of several young LDS missionaries. Elder David F. Evans, executive director of the LDS Church’s Missionary Department, said, "the loss of even one missionary is far too many."

The release went on to read that "gratefully, these occurrences are rare, and missionary work is inherently safe. The mortality rate for missionaries is significantly less than those in their same age group in the general population."

Monson family
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The April general conference signaled President Monson's fifth year as church president, and the October conference marked his 50th year as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

During his remarks in the Sunday morning session of the October conference, President Monson paid tribute to his wife, Frances J. Monson, who died on May 17.

“Tomorrow (Oct. 7, 2013) would have been our 65th wedding anniversary," he said. "She was the love of my life, my trusted confidant and my closest friend. To say I miss her does not begin to convey the depth of my feelings. … Through all these years, I have felt nothing but the full and complete support of my sweet companion. Countless are the sacrifices she made so that I could fulfill my calling. Never did I hear a word of complaint from her as I was often required to spend days and sometimes weeks away from her and from our children. She was an angel, indeed.”

Digital outreach screenshot

In November and December, the church began to release enhanced gospel topics pages on about "Race and the Priesthood," "First Vision Accounts" and more.

The enhanced pages added rigorous historical background from church historians and, for the first time, historians outside the church. The pages also include links to information on other websites, another first for

The church also launched several other important websites in 2013 —, and It also posted a robust religious freedom topics page and a "Support Religious Freedom" Facebook page.

A major upgrade to the church's Gospel Library mobile app, with more than 1.5 million active users, also made news.

Humanitarian aid and relief efforts
Ravell Call, Deseret News

As in years past, the church has actively sought to provide humanitarian aid and relief to victims of natural disasters.

After Cyclone Evan caused damage in Samoa, missionaries assisted in the January clean-up effort. Church members also volunteered to help clean up areas affected by Hurricane Sandy in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Hundreds of Latter-day Saints and missionaries donned yellow “Helping Hands” T-shirts in February to assist in cleaning up after a tornado damaged parts of Southern Mississippi.

The church provided aid to those affected by flooding in La Plata, Argentina, in April.

Feeding America, a national hunger-relief organization, announced a donation of more than one million pounds of food by the church in May.

The church provided supplies and volunteers to support communities in Oklahoma affected by five tornadoes that struck near Oklahoma City at the beginning of the summer.

Church members in Colorado Springs, Colo., put together a clothing drive to help evacuees after a wildfire destroyed 509 homes and burned 14,000 acres in June. Assistance was also given in response to flooding in the state in September.

More than 100,000 people were killed in flood-related incidents following a September storm in Mexico. Members and missionaries assisted in shoveling mud, delivering food and assembling hygiene kits.

Amid earthquakes and hurricanes, the church continues to do extensive work in the Philippines. In September, two typhoons, Typhoon Lubuya and Typhoon Maring, caused flooding in 16 provinces and hundreds of cities and villages, including Manila. Some 260,000 families, or 1.2 million people, including 1,150 Latter-day Saint families, were displaced by the storms, according to a Church welfare report.

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the Philippines in late October.

Around the same time, the church reached out to government leaders and other partner organizations in India after Cyclone Phailin struck the nation on Oct. 12. One of the worst storms to hit India in the past 14 years, Cyclone Phailin caused at least 25 deaths and the evacuation of some 800,000 people.

The church continues to assist with relief efforts following Typhoon Haiyan, which impacted more than 100,000 Latter-day Saints in November. The United Nations estimated that more than 660,000 people were displaced by the violent storm. A vast network of LDS volunteers continues to restore power and running water while helping people in the recovery effort. Seven of 21 church missions in the Philippines were impacted by the storm, but all the missionaries were safe, according to a statement. A Deseret News article detailed the incredible survival story of 10 sister missionaries amid the dangerous rising waters of the typhoon.

Courtesy LDS Church

In March, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church’s First Presidency, dedicated the Tegucigalpa Honduras Temple.

In his opening remarks for April’s general conference, President Monson announced plans to build temples in Cedar City, Utah, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In August, President Monson joined with other Mormon and community leaders to break ground for the church’s temple in Hartford, Conn. A few weeks later, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the church’s Presidency of the Seventy presided over the groundbreaking of the Fort Collins Temple, the second temple to be built in Colorado.

The church also released a new temple film in August.

Education and curriculum
Courtesy LDS Church

At the end of 2012, the church announced that a newly approved curriculum for teaching young men and women, titled “Come, Follow Me: Learning Resources for Youth,” would be available for use beginning in January.

A letter from the First Presidency said the new curriculum “integrates basic gospel doctrines as well as principles for teaching the Savior’s way.”

In February, the church announced the release of a new edition of its English-language scriptures. The updates included revisions to study aids, new photos, updated maps, and adjustments to chapter and section headings.

In April, the church announced that total seminary enrollment had surpassed 390,000 in 150 countries — the highest enrollment ever.

The church also revised its scripture mastery list.

Church milestones
LDS Church

In the October general conference, President Monson announced that church membership had reached 15 million members.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve dedicated the newly completed Abu Dhabi Stake Center in the United Arab Emirates on Feb. 22.

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve organized the first stake in the Republic of Armenia in June.

In July, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve created the church’s 100th stake in Peru.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Ravell Call, Deseret News

The world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir continued to make headlines in 2013. The choir took the top spot on Billboard Magazine’s Traditional Classical Albums Arts list for 2012. In October, the choir's YouTube channel reached five million views one year after its launch.

The choir performed with five-time Grammy Award-winning artist James Taylor at the Conference Center in September.

The choir also commemorated the 85th anniversary of its “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast in August.

The church and Scouting
Scott Winterton, Deseret News

The church celebrated 100 years of Scouting with the Boys Scouts of America in October with a program in the Conference Center titled “A Century of Honor.”

In May, the BSA approved a resolution to remove any restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation. The church issued a statement in response to the BSA’s policy change.

"Sexual orientation has not previously been — and is not now — a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops," the statement read. "Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest. These standards are outlined in the booklet 'For the Strength of Youth' and include abstinence from sexual relationships."

Statements on Supreme Court decisions

In June, the church released a statement about the U.S. Supreme Court rulings regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. The statement read: "Regardless of the court decision, the church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children."

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Several other events deserve mention.

• Prior to the October general conference, the church announced that the priesthood session broadcast would be available live on various digital channels, but it still encouraged men to attend the session at their stake centers. The church also announced that a semiannual women’s meeting would replace the general Relief Society and general Young Women meetings, and that girls 8 and older are invited to attend.

• In the realm of family history work, FamilySearch announced upgrades to its website, including the Family Tree feature, and reached a milestone of one billion records indexed in seven years.

• The church celebrated the 75th anniversary of Deseret Industries in August and the 50th anniversary of the Polynesian Cultural Center in September.

• In the sports world, Jabari Parker started his college basketball career at Duke University. In March, the Lone Peak High School basketball team brought a national championship to Utah. The team included several members of the church, some of who are currently serving missions.

• Elders L. Tom Perry and Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve and their wives accepted a formal invitation to represent the church at the 57th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., last January.

• President Uchtdorf and 13 other faith leaders met with President Barack Obama in March at the White House to discuss the topic of immigration.

• Elders Eldred G. Smith, Philip T. Sonntag and Graham W. Doxey were among notable deaths in 2013.

• The church altered the name and program for its annual Christmas devotional.